Mar 18, 2013 - North Dakota “Personhood” Laws Direct Attack on Women’s Rights -Dr. Sara Jumping Eagle

North Dakota “Personhood” Laws are Direct Affront to Roe vs. Wade and Everyday Women
By Sara Jumping Eagle, MD
On Friday, March 15, 2013, the North Dakota Senate voted and passed House Bill 1456, a “personhood” bill which effectively bans abortions in North Dakota. This bill, also called the heartbeat ban, outlaws abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as 6 weeks! If this bill is signed by Governor Jack Dalrymple on Monday March 18th, it will become the strictest abortion law in the country. This bill states that if a physician performs an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected they will be fined $5000 and potentially sentenced up to five years in prison, making this medical procedure a Class C Felony in this circumstance. Under this bill there is an exception for “medical emergencies” yet the wording is vague. There is also no exception made in cases of rape or incest.
The North Dakota Senate had also passed Bill 1305; this addendum to the code specifies that a physician may not perform an abortion which is sex selective or because of a chromosomal or genetic abnormality. The penalty for the physician would be a Class A Misdemeanor. Again, wording in the bill is vague.

On Monday March 18, 2013 Governor Jack Dalrymple will have these two bills on his table. There is discussion in North Dakota that he will likely sign them into law given that he is a Republican conservative in a Republican conservative state. Yet, these laws in many ways directly challenge Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court decision which legalizes abortion. Many people believe that passing these state laws, will tie North Dakota up with expensive litigation defending these state laws and challenging Roe vs. Wade. Proponents of the “personhood” bills state that these bills comply with Roe vs. Wade – this seems to be a stretch of the meaning of the law.

The North Dakota Medical Association has taken a formal position against these bills, mainly because “personhood” bills interfere with the ability to provide full medical care, such as care for infertility, in cases of ectopic pregnancy (where the embryo has mistakenly implanted in the fallopian tubes and not the uterus, thereby at risk for rupture and bleeding, putting the woman’s life and future fertility at risk), or in a case where an abortion could save the pregnant woman’s life.

NDMA Executive Director Courtney Koebele, was quoted in the “Bakken Today” as stating that physicians themselves are divided over abortion, yet, “These bills are interfering with the physician practice to such an extent that we didn’t really have an alternative,” she said. “These are just bad bills.”

Mike Booth, president of the North Dakota Medical Association, was also quoted in the “Bakken Today” stating that if the personhood bills become law, it could make North Dakota less attractive to professional women. “I see this as a real swipe at women’s rights,” he added. “I find that very depressing in a state that’s trying very hard to push itself forward. That really upsets me.”

I tend to agree with Mr. Booth. The decisions we make about our bodies, when to have sex, when to become pregnant, when to be mothers, and when not to be are all personal decisions. People will argue that these choices have moral, religious, and spiritual implications as well – yes they do – and that is also personal. So, I believe and trust in women’s ability and right to make these choices for themselves and for their families and futures. As a woman, friend, family member, and physician, I have been in many situations and scenarios where these difficult choices have to be made – I cannot judge other people for the decisions they make. They have to do what is best for them at that time and place in their lives, they have to live with that decision every day – I don’t have to, the legislature doesn’t have to, a judge doesn’t have to, arbitrary people protesting at clinics do not have to live with those every day decisions. I have seen more people upset and feel the need to interfere with women’s rights to make their own health decisions then they are about children who are abused, neglected, or possibly not eating enough because for some reason their parents are unable or do not want to care for them. I have seen women who were being physically and sexually abused, who then became pregnant, because their every waking moment is controlled by a jealous man full of rage, who is unable to care for the woman, much less a family. So when that woman chooses not to carry this pregnancy, who am I to judge her? Where are those protestors and senators when that woman needs help? Where is their love and caring then?

When a woman finds out she is pregnant with a fetus, which has a chromosomal abnormality that will result in death at birth, should she be forced to carry that pregnancy to term? Or be charged with a crime, for wanting to have an induced delivery early? Will the senators be there when she is there in those last months? Waiting to plan for death? And pain? No. This is personal. If a woman is pregnant and finds out she has cancer, and decides to have an abortion to start chemotherapy, is she a criminal? Is her physician a criminal? This is personal.

If a woman comes to a health care facility with abdominal pain, is found to have an ectopic pregnancy that is about to rupture, the embryo or fetus is found to have a heartbeat, then who determines if it is life threatening or an emergency? Is it an emergency enough to perform an abortion? If I have to perform an abortion in this case will someone charge me with a crime? If I think about this too long will my patient, the newly determined pregnant woman, die? How many times will this happen with this new law?

Some obstetrics and gynecology specialists, including fertility specialists, are already thinking about leaving the state. Many OB/GYN specialists know they will not be able to fully work in a state like North Dakota, where such limiting laws would exist, which place medical care regarding pregnancy, contraception, and fertility out of the hands of women, their families, and their physicians and straight into a court of law.

Should people who abide by certain religions, force their religious beliefs by law onto our bodies and into our lives? By allowing the religious right into our laws we are thereby ensuring that only those who can afford to leave states with stricter contraception and abortion laws will be able to have choice with respect to their bodies. Women who have been oppressed systematically, generationally, and every day will continue to be held hostage to a system that ignores the fact that we all should have the ability to make our own health decisions for ourselves with our own health care provider, PRIVATELY.
According to Amnesty International, one out of three Native American women will be raped in her lifetime. How many women and female children will be forced to carry a pregnancy to term as a result of these “personhood” laws? Where will the senators, the legislature, and the puppets be when these women have to be told this? Whose life will they care about then? Who will they help then?

There are women in situations of domestic violence, rape, incest – situations that people do not want to discuss or recognize to exist on a daily basis – women need to be able to have access to contraception and other choices that are not limited by outdated philosophies of old white men and women who have no idea of the daily lives of those who have already been traumatized. We do not want to discuss that if these laws pass it will only be rich women who will then have choice- they will be able to travel out of state to make their own health decisions. These old men, women, and their puppets care about “life” – just not the lives of everyday women.

We can agree to disagree about abortion, yet leave the health care decisions of women to women and their health care providers to discuss privately.

Please call Governor Dalrymple 701-328-2200 and ask him to veto HB 1305 and HB 1456. You can also tweet him @DalrympleforGov or email him at

Dr. Sara Jumping Eagle is a Pediatrician and Adolescent Medicine Specialist. Dr. Jumping Eagle is Oglala Lakota and Mdewakantonwan Dakota from Kyle, South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation. She obtained her medical degree from Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. Jumping Eagle did her Pediatrics Residency and Adolescent Medicine Fellowship at Denver Children’s Hospital. Dr. Jumping Eagle conducted research on the prevention and screening for sexually transmitted infections among American Indian youth and young adults. Dr. Jumping Eagle currently works in Bismarck, ND. She is a member of the Association of American Indian Physicians, the National Suicide Prevention Resource Center’s national advisory council, a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and a member of the AAP’s Committee on Native American Child Health. Dr. Jumping Eagle is married and has three children.

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